A few Conservative rabbis across the U.S. are no longer reciting the Prayer for the State of Israel during services in protest of the Israeli government and some of its policies, according to the Jewish News Syndicate.
Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of New York City’s Congregation Ansche Chesed said he was discontinuing the prayer during Shabbat services because he believes Israel’s leaders are “dastardly.”
In a statement on the congregation’s website, Kalmanofsky wrote that he was replacing the prayer with “Psalm 122: Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.”
While they understand the sentiment, Pittsburgh rabbis are keeping the prayer as part of their Shabbat services.
“When things don’t go our way, we have to pray even harder because we want to make sure that the principles of democracy are maintained,” said Rabbi Seth Adelson of the Conservative Congregation Beth Shalom. “We want to make sure that the government continues to hear our voices. We want to make sure that we see ourselves reflected in the values of the Israeli government as well as that of our own.”
Withholding prayers for the government when one is displeased by it — whether in Israel or the United States — is exactly the wrong thing to do, he said.
“I’m praying that that state of Israel will survive this government and crisis in Israeli society; therefore, I recite the Prayer for Israel,” Adelson said. “I’m praying for its continuity and its adherence to the principles under which it was established as I am [praying] to help this government find the right path.”
“If anything,” Adat Shalom Rabbi Yaier Lehrer said, “Israel needs our prayers now more than ever.”
The survival of Israel, he said, is dependent, at least in part, on our prayers.
“You don’t take away your Prayer for the State of Israel,” he said.
At least half the Israeli population, Lehrer noted, agrees with the policies of its government. If some want to protest, he said, there are better ways than removing the Prayer for the State of Israel from services.
For Lehrer, addition makes more sense than subtraction.
“If you want to add a prayer, if you want to say something like the Mi Shebeirach or pray for the protesters, I think that might be even more constructive, rather than the destructive way of eliminating the prayer altogether,” he said.
Rabbi Alex Greenbaum of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills stressed that “we don’t pray for [Israel’s] leaders; we pray for its leaders to do the right thing.”
Israel, the Conservative rabbi said, needs more prayers now than ever before.
Rather than eliminate prayers, Greenbaum said his congregation is welcoming speakers to help educate its members about what is happening in the Jewish state.
“At the same time, we’re not giving up our hope for Israel,” he said. “We still hope and pray that Israel remains a safe place for all.”
Rabbi Amy Bardack, the spiritual leader of the Reconstructionist Dor Hadash, was ordained as a Conservative rabbi the same year as Kalmanofsky. Dor Hadash, she said, doesn’t recite the Prayer for the State of Israel each Shabbat; rather, it allows whoever is serving as prayer leader to choose a prayer for the community.
The founder of Reconstructionism, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, wrote about Zionism in the 1950s, Bardack said.
“He already foresaw that it could be a challenge — Israel becoming a theocracy,” she said. “He believed in maintaining Israel’s democratic core that it stated in its Declaration of Independence, guaranteeing the rights of every resident governed by Israel.”
Bardack said she thinks that praying for any state raises theological questions.
“Do we believe that God can intervene in the policies of the government?” she asked. “Do we believe God can affect a military outcome? I don’t believe in a God who controls that level of human activity. So why would I pray to a God to ensure the success of any state?
“I’m not in favor of praying for a nation-state because I don’t think God is responsible for their decisions and actions,” she continued. “I think people are responsible.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.